Friday, June 18

How MS Dhoni’s words of advice worked wonders for T Natarajan

Sunrisers Hyderabad seamer T Natarajan recently revealed that MS Dhoni’s advice to use variations like cutters and slower bouncers, and also focus on fitness, has helped him achieve his recent success. The left-armer is coming into IPL 2021 on the back of a successful season with Team India.

T Natarajan had a breakout IPL season last year in which he carved a niche for himself as a bowler who could bowl yorkers at will. Not only did he execute the most yorkers by any bowler – a staggering 71 – but he also accounted for some world-class stars like MS Dhoni and AB de Villiers.

And the words of wisdom were imparted after he dismissed the former India captain in Match 29.

“I pitched one in the slot and he hit me for a big six – 102 metres or something. The next ball I got his wicket [and didn’t celebrate] – I was just thinking about that previous ball. After coming back to the dressing room, though, I was happy,” T Natarajan told ESPNcricinfo.

“After finishing the match, I also had a chat with him. Speaking to somebody like Dhoni itself is a big thing. He spoke to me about fitness and encouraged me, saying that I will keep getting better with experience. He said, use slow bouncers, cutters and variations like that. It has been useful for me,” T Natarajan added.

November 6, 2020 was another auspicious day for T Natarajan. The 30-year-old played a key role in the Eliminator against RCB, picking up two wickets including that of AB de Villiers with arguably one of the balls of the season. The victory that night was extra sweet as it coincided with the birth of his baby girl.

“Definitely. On one side there was my girl and on the other side, I got that wicket in an important knockout game. Romba santhosham [I was extremely happy], but I didn’t really tell the others [about the baby]…I bowled the yorker to de Villiers cross-seam. I bowled cross-seam yorkers against England too. When I try a yorker on the seam, there are some chances of missing my angle, so sometimes it comes out as a low full-toss. For me to bowl with the cross-seam grip is more comfortable,” T Natarajan explained.

Both results and rewards have been plenty for Natarajan ever since the exchange with MS Dhoni. After ending IPL 2020 with 16 wickets from as many games, he earned a ticket to Australia as a net bowler. But as luck would have it, with the visitors ravaged by injuries, the Salem-born pacer became the first Indian to debut in all three formats on the same tour.

“I believed 100 percent that I could execute the yorker” – T Natarajan

T Natarajan has picked 18 wickets at a strike-rate of 25.17 in 22 IPL matches [Credits: IPL]
T Natarajan has picked 18 wickets at a strike-rate of 25.17 in 22 IPL matches [Credits: IPL]

T20 cricket is increasingly getting stacked in favour of batsmen. And if the match is played at a small ground like Sharjah or the Chinnaswamy Stadium, the margin for error becomes negligible for bowlers.

However, it was just sheer self-belief that helped T Natarajan nail the yorkers and finish IPL 2020 with an economy rate of 8.02. This was despite bowling all the difficult overs and bowling to the likes of Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard and AB de Villiers among many others.

“I knew I would get hit if I erred in my length. Even if I miss it by inches, these batsmen are power-hitters who can hit it for a six. In a small ground like that [Sharjah], any batsman will be confident of hitting a six. Sometimes even if they mishit, the ball will go for six. I was just clear that I couldn’t miss my length,” T Natarajan said.

“If I tried something else and did not stick to my strength and gave runs [with variations] too, it would affect my confidence. I believed 100 percent that I could execute the yorker. I have always believed in my strength and even if I make an error, I back myself to come back with the yorker,” he explained.

SRH begin their IPL 2021 campaign on Sunday (April 11) against the Kolkata Knight Riders in Chennai. If they are to harbour any chance of repeating their 2016 success, T Natarajan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will have to be at the top of their game.

Published 07 Apr 2021, 12:23 IST

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